Adrian Cheng: Building Up a New Chinese Culture

At 34 years old, Hong Kong business leader Adrian Cheng is one of the world’s youngest billionaires. However, he is determined to make a name for himself, based not on dollars and cents, but on cultural development, with his K11 Art Mall and not-for-profit K11 Art Foundation. Posing his endeavors as a “new museum model,” Cheng has brought major shows, such as the recent “Master of Impressionism—Claude Monet,” to the art space in the basement of the K11 shopping development in Shanghai. He has also built two “art villages” in smaller cities, set up artist residencies, and developed the foundation’s collection.

Cheng with Zhang Enli’s  Pub 5, 1998.COURTESY K11 ART FOUNDATION

Cheng with Zhang Enli’s Pub 5, 1998.

Cheng, who is chairman of the $16 billion New World Development real estate and retail empire founded by his grandfather Cheng Yu-Tung, spent ten years in the United States—at boarding school and then at Harvard. “I have always been very fascinated with literature and the humanities,” Cheng told ARTnews last March at the Armory Show in New York, where he sponsored a symposium to accompany the fair’s Focus: China section. He also sponsored the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Ink Art” show.

In his aim to raise the visibility of Chinese contemporary art Cheng explains, “Emerging artists have high potential, but sometimes they are under the radar, because China is very driven by the auction market and by what’s commercial. I am not a gallery. I don’t sell any of the artworks. K11 is a nonprofit art foundation registered in Hong Kong, but we cover greater China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.”

K11 Foundation’s collection focuses on international artists, such as Yoshitomo Nara and Olafur Eliasson, whose works have been installed in Cheng’s shopping mall in Hong Kong, while his own collection includes a wide range of artists, such as Zhang Enli and Zhang Ding.

By feeding profits from the retail business back into the art foundation, Cheng says he is able to produce 50 shows a year, attracting over 1,000 visitors a day. K11 Foundation’s VIP club has over 10,000 members. Cheng next plans to collaborate with the Palais de Tokyo to bring Chinese art to Paris and European art to China. “I think the new contemporary Chinese art is reinventing Chinese cultural identity and building up a new Chinese culture,” he says. “I am only an entrepreneur and business person, a collector and art pioneer, but I try to bring this discussion to a different platform.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 68 under the title “Adrian Cheng.”

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